The beaches of the Fort Myers-Sanibel area offer several options for family fun.

By Kate Pursell

It's a slice of heaven just waiting to be discovered. And it's so family-friendly that you'll come back time and time again.

Mom and Dad, take note: You might be reading this while the temperatures outside are starting to dip into the low digits, and a Florida vacation (winters here are deliciously mild) sounds inviting. Rest assured that Lee County on the Gulf coast is ready to make sure you bring back some picture-perfect memories.

Families with small children will revel in the sublime beaches in the Fort Myers-Sanibel area, which are truly child-friendly. Think swimming pool-like conditions (soft, sandy bottoms) but with the incredible beauty of the Gulf of Mexico as your backdrop and plenty of shells to tuck away in your suitcase to bring back memories of your Florida vacation. And it's not just beaches that shine, here, but hotels that put an extra emphasis on watery wonders.

Kids Welcome

That's what will greet you at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point in Bonita Springs, where a beaming smile revealed a recent visit from the tooth fairy as the water sprite impatiently waited for mom to give the go ahead so he could splash back into the water.

Care to fly a kite? Hunt for a shark tooth? Make a Calusa warrior necklace? Or take a pontoon boat trip to explore Estero Bay? Parents can sign the kids up for full, half-day or evening sessions at Camp Coconut.

And while the kids are off exploring, what can you do? Those in need of pampering should waste no time in visiting Stillwater Spa, where they can relax in a bath of lavender and chamomile, have a massage or visit the beauty salon. The Spa Fitness Center is open 24 hours a day and has cardiovascular equipment and free weights.

Book a sunset cruise, go back bay fishing, take an eco cruise, kayak or head to the Big Hickory Island Beach Park (a 15-minute boat trip away) on the Gulf of Mexico to wriggle your toes in the pristine white sand.

Sun, Sand, Shells and Casa Ybel

The little blonde-haired tyke in a bathing suit scrambled quickly up the steps to their second-story room at Casa Ybel Resort on Sanibel Island, and, face flushed with excitement, made it perfectly clear to her mom that swimming had ended much too soon for her. After all, there isn't just a pool and kiddie pool at Casa Ybel, but the Gulf of Mexico's gentle waves.

Sanibel has long been lauded for its sunning, swimming and shelling. If you're traveling with children, head to Casa Ybel Resort. The Casa Kids' Club for children ages 4 - 11 has three-hour themed activities, craft projects and swimming (depending on the ages and ability levels of the children present). You can also sign up for "a la carte" activities, such as dinner and a movie, sand dollar painting, creating tie-dye T-shirts and scavenger hunts (there are 23 acres to explore).

After a day of activities, some "down" time in the room may be in order, and the front desk staff will happily lend board games (Monopoly, Clue, Chutes and Ladders) to keep them entertained. The front desk can also accommodate mom and dad by arranging for babysitters. This is also the place to rent bikes for pedaling around Sanibel's 23 miles of paved bike paths. Baby seats, child trailers and tandem bikes are available for family outings.

Tennis, fishing right off the beach or from the pier at Lighthouse Beach Park, yoga on the lawn behind the Thistle Lodge restaurant, sailing a Sunfish sailboat, and trips to the J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge (explore by car, by bike or by foot) are other activities available for adults. After all that exercise, mom and dad just may need a massage.

After a full day of fun you might be ready to fire up the grill, and guess what? There are gas grills right outside the buildings, adding to Casa Ybel's family-type atmosphere. And talk about location: While you're flipping a burger or grilling a steak make sure you take a gander at the gulf. Now, that's my idea of "backyard" barbecuing.

Pretty in Pink

The Pink Shell isn't just a gorgeous, beachfront resort, but it's a spot where families will find plenty for everyone to do. While the parents enjoy spa treatments, parasailing, kayaking, sailing, a day of fishing or a wave runner ride, what's in store for the younger set?

If they're between the ages of 4 - 12, sign them up for Pink Shell's Kidds Kampp; those ages 12 and up can put on their "helping hats" as members of the Junior Recreational Attendant Program. 

Sparky will help the kiddies make crafts, decorate cookies and watch movies on a huge outdoor screen. There are themed events (such as Pirate Adventures and Wizards where the kids perform) and poolside activities (picture frames made from shells, hair braiding, ice cream buffets).

On the beach, they can construct mammoth sandcastles, make footprint "art" or cast a line right into the gulf.

For information on resorts and activities, or for more information on other family-friendly beachfront getaways, visit  Fort Myers – Islands, Beaches and Neighborhoods.

Places to Remember